Police suspect burglars targeting houses for sale may be locating and casing their targets online using real estate websites.
Following up on the arrests Tuesday of two burglary suspects at an unoccupied Robles Avenue home, San Marino police found suspected stolen goods from several San Gabriel Valley homes that were for sale, with online pictures revealing they were unoccupied, said Det. Sgt. Tim Tebbets, of the San Marino Police Department.
"One of the things we are looking at is them using real estate websites, Zillow or anything else that shows pictures of the actual house to see if it's occupied or not," Tebbets said.
The Robles house was a slightly different case — not for sale or advertised online, but well known in the neighborhood as an unoccupied investment property visited only occasionally. When the owner dropped by the house Tuesday, he found a strange car in the driveway, and called police. Responding officers encountered a man and a woman in the back, and evidence they had brought items out to load into their car, Tebbets said.
Prosecutors on Thursday charged Arthur Edward Hernandez and Tracy Lee Viera in the case. Hernandez faces two misdemeanor counts of petty theft and possessing a controlled substance. Viera faces three charges including petty theft and receiving stolen property exceeding $950.
During the investigation, detectives discovered additional apparent stolen property — including mail — in a Rosemead storage unit rented by Viera, Tebbets said.
Police cannot say which websites burglars may be using to scout houses, but Tebbets said online photos clearly revealed that several of the victimized houses for sale were not occupied.
Home photos posted on Zillow come from real estate organizations such as the Multiple Listing Service, and are part of the information made public for the purpose of marketing, said spokesperson Emily Heffter.
Deciding how much information to release for marketing can be a balancing act for sellers and their listing agents.
"Exposure sells houses," said prominent San Marino realtor Brent Chang of Compass Realty. "The biggest peril we see is exposing too much information on the internet."
Chang said he cautions his clients to avoid posting information about any valuable items that remain in a home while on the market, especially if it's unoccupied. When no one is staying in the home, he further recommends the owner have security measures, such as cameras and patrol services, and also timers to turn lights on and off to give the appearance the house is occupied.
Since the first of the year Pasadena police count four burglaries in homes for sale, including two in the past week, said Lt. Vasken Gourdikian.
He said in one case, the burglary occurred shortly after an open house. Police suspect that was when the burglar cased the home and figured out how to get in after it was closed up again.
Chang reminds sellers not to leave out valuables during open houses, nor identifying information, nor personal items such as prescription medicines.
It appears the Robles home was entered by reaching through a doggy door to turn the inside lock, Tebbets said.